Healthcare; Design’s Final Frontier!

Last semester, I had the great privilege of working with a top tier healthcare organization in the Philadelphia area.  Unfortunately, I cannot share the name of this organization because of a contract I was obligated to sign, ensuring confidentiality.  This is probably because the work my team and I were set out to do would discover problems and inefficiencies within this healthcare system.  If we shared the name of the organization when we talk about our work, we might tarnish their elite image.  For now I’ll just call them PhillyAid.

The team and I were excited about the opportunity to work with such a prestigious organization.  We brushed up on how design was currently being implemented in healthcare.  It was encouraging to find other prestigious healthcare organizations’ use of design.  Hospitals are implementing design to change the way patients are treated and discovering how to improve their overall experience.  Design is also being employed internally to change how employees interact with each other.  Some hospitals have redesigned office spaces to encourage employees to naturally interact with each other where they would otherwise remain unengaged.  The results of these new methods have yielded hospitals that not only run more efficiently internally, but also help patients heal more quickly.  Discovering this implementation of design really encouraged us.  Sadly we were not able to realize similar solutions as we would have liked to.

Our relationship with PhillyAid started out fairly well.  We touched base early in the semester to get an understanding of what their expectations were for us.  We also used this opportunity to further explain our work process.  PhillyAid and Uart’s relationship started because there was a survey that showed employees at PhillyAid felt like they did not have a voice and that there wants and needs were not heard.  This was something that was tarnishing the polished PhillyAid image.  Our work was then to focus on bringing in innovative thinking to PhillyAid, for the purpose of developing methods for employees to be and feel heard.

PhillyAid was already trying to address this problem before we got involved.  They were focusing on addressing the issue with digital interfaces.  The first one (we’ll call it System X) was an online tool that employees were required to use to fulfill mandatory safety requirements.  Users of System X would take tests that were multiple choice questions in a format that was similar to a power-point presentation.  One thing to note about this system is how the user could get the answer to a question wrong but was given the opportunity to continue fishing for the right answer.  The person responsible for further development of System X wanted develop it into a tool which would compliment employee, professional development.

The second system (we will call it System Z) was an attempted to give employees a voice with a digital format.  System Z is basically a Facebook that is only accessible to employees of PhillyAid.  On this system, users can create groups and share ideas.  The emphasis of using this program is to allow people to share ideas to a large audience, which would help create “buy-in.”  This would potentially give employees a way to reinforce ideas by gaining support through using this digital tool.

Because PhillyAid was such a beast of an organization, it took forever to do anything.  There was always someone we would have to ask for permission to do something but that person might have to ask someone else who might not know who would refer us to someone else.  It was red tape after bureaucratic nonsense.  I don’t imagine PhillyAid’s operating rooms function this way.  It took us weeks to gain access to interview employees about their experiences at work.

Once our team reached employees, we discovered a number of things.  For now, I am just going to focus on how people responded in regard to these digital tools.  Employees absolutely hated System X.  It was cumbersome, counter-intuitive to use, and most employees did not really understand its value.  When we asked about System Z most people had never heard of it.  Most employees said they learned best by physically engaging in the learning process.  Our findings from interviews also revealed that there are over 200 digital systems within PhillyAid.  Employees can have anywhere from 7 to 10 different usernames and logins.  If it were up to us, we probably would have just gotten rid of them all together.

I have a number of concerns in moving forward with PhillyAid.  First, let’s realize that time in graduate school is precious.  I want to squeeze every drop of learning opportunities there are out of this program.  PhillyAid isn’t exactly the poster-child for getting a lot done over a short period of time.  Second, let’s remember what’s great about working with PhillyAid; it’s a healthcare organization.  If I am going to be working with a healthcare organization, I want the experience of working with patients.  There is a certain element of how PhillyAid’s hesitance in allowing us to work with patients is an acute case of “huge-ego.”  If I spend all of this time working at a healthcare organization and never see a patient, that’s like taking a trip to the moon, landing there, and then staying inside of the shuttle and not even peeking out the window.  So if I am not going to get the opportunity to help improve how PhillyAid is working with patients, and I am limited in what I can accomplish when working with PhillyAid due to the bureaucracy, what incentive is there to work with them?

Philadelphia has a plethora of opportunities for implementing design.

I was invited to sit in on a class in a charter school for high school drop-outs.  The students here come from low-income, high crime neighborhoods.  The school teaches students standard curriculum along with vocational skills.  Furthermore, the students are taught behavioral skills that help change the way they react to their environments.  When I got to the school I did not have to fill out any special paper work or get level-five clearance.  I showed up, walked into a classroom, sat down, and observed.  It is that environment, where people are eager to get others involved, that I am looking for.  Not to mention the problems here make PhillyAid’s concerns with employees engaging digitally futile.  I look forward to seeing what this semester has in store for me.

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